Cinema owners are creating some of their own hygiene theater, with excessive cleaning measures that have not proven to keep moviegoers any safer from catching COVID.
Movie theaters have snapped up misters and foggers and gallons upon gallons of pricey cleaning chemicals in order to disinfect and wipe down surfaces where virus particles might live, but it is all in vain, according to a report from Variety.
Health experts have been saying since last year that the risk of getting COVID from touching an infected surface was minuscule, and last month, it was backed up by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which put the risk at just 1 in 10,000.
The shockingly low risk caused the National Association of Theater Owners, a trade group that reps cinema owners, to quietly roll back its mandate to disinfect between each screening. Now, the group has advised that disinfecting should be “consistent with existing CDC, state or local guidelines.” As of early April, those guidelines say it’s OK to just clean — not disinfect — once a day.
But many theaters are sticking to the previous disinfecting protocols because they feel that the more stringent rules make customers feel safer, even if those rules aren’t grounded in science.
“We’re still spraying between shows,” Jeff Logan, president and chief executive of Logan Luxury Theaters, told Variety. “We’ve got to maintain public confidence.”
Theaters have been allowed to open at limited capacity across the country, and in some states like South Dakota, where Logan’s chain is based, there are no capacity restrictions at all. Despite all the cleaning, however, box office revenue is still dwarfed by pre-pandemic levels.
Even though there has been no known COVID-19 transmission from movie theaters, customers remain wary of returning, and as a result, owners do not want to make any sudden changes, according to Joe Paletta, president of Spotlight Theaters in Georgia.
“We’re continuing until we get a little more clear consensus out there,” he said. “We’ll look at our markets and see what the customer feels comfortable with.”
Los Angeles-based independent movie theater chain Landmark Theatres also told Variety it is not changing its cleaning regimen either.
National association spokesman Patrick Corcoran said the updated guidelines leave in place all other restrictions, including mandatory mask wearing, physical distancing and frequent hand washing. He added that relaxed cleaning rules came after the CDC updated its guidelines and that it was approved independently by the theater owners’ own medical consultants.
Some theaters are following the updated rules, which not only saves theaters money on costly disinfecting products, but expedites the cleaning process.
According to Paul Farnsworth, a rep for Kansas City-based B&B Theaters, his cinema chain is “leaning heavily into the science informing” the CDC and the national association.
“We will not be developing or implementing additional measures outside of that counsel,” Farnsworth said. “We’re just going to make darn sure everyone feels safe.”